When my daughter, Ivy, was small, we told her that Mt Chincogan was ‘her’ mountain. She formed this romantic kind of bond with the mountain that disappeared and popped up on the road into town, like some sort of geological peek a boo. She’d clap and laugh and say ‘There’s my mountain. Ivy’s mountain!’ We even stopped calling it by its name and just referred to it as ‘Ivy’s mountain.’ It seemed kind of gorgeous for a baby to believe that a mountain belonged to her.
Later, when she was three, we moved into our new house, built on a ridge with spectacular views of Ivy’s mountain. In fact, the mountain is so majestically framed by our dining room window, it was like Ivy’s mountain had moved in. When you face a mountain, night and day, you become acutely aware of the moods of a place; The soft clouds, the shadows, the blazing sunshine, the mountain in mist; the mountain as this ancient pervasive presence. This place with stories I don’t know. This place that has seen things I will never know.
It occurred to me one day that we were watching the mountain, but there were times when I felt like perhaps the mountain was watching us. It made me question that real estate one-liner ‘mountain views’. Like we have commodified our landscape to the point that it becomes a ‘view’. When you live in the reach of a powerful mountain, it feels much more than a view.
One day, I heard Ivy arguing with her three year old friend next door. It was one of those arguments between children that you wished you could have filmed for a 21st birthday curiosity. You see, my neighbours had also told their daughter that Mt Chincogan was her mountain. The two little girls were bickering ‘It’s my mountain’ and the other would say ‘No, it’s my mountain!’ I’d seen children fight over toys, over lollies, over who gets a go on the swing, but not over a mountain!
Finally a truce was drawn when both girls were told that the mountain didn’t belong to either of them. ‘No one owns the mountain’. They didn’t believe it. They still secretly thought the mountain was theirs. I was thinking about this story early one morning, a few weeks ago, when I was walking. I was looking at the mountain and musing at our obsession with land ownership, and contemplating the Aboriginal approach to country. It’s hard not to walk a street, or a beach, or a place regularly, notice the changes, from the morning, to the night, the way the seasons make their mark, and not get this sense of connection. To feel the sense of what country is.
I wonder what Indigenous Australians really mean when they talk of country. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it deeply enough. It’s hard to understand a connection to country when you live in a culture with connection to real estate. To ‘mountain views’. In this strange time of lockdown and social distancing I’ve never needed to walk more. It seems everyone has needed to walk their country. To find their connection to nature when they can’t connect with each other. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, or sad or angry, an hour in nature has been like a tonic. There’s this sense of calm, that all is well. A sense of the inconsequence of my existence.
Kind of paradoxical when you contemplate the apocalyptic consequence of our shared inconsequential existences.
But this place has seen so much, it has sustained and adapted, from ice ages, to volcanic eruptions, to floods and raging fires, to colonisation. The land has resilience – this ability to continue. It’s the only mantra that seems to make any sense to me right now. When I walk this country, I notice things. I feel connected. I feel my sense of place. I am not Indigenous, this is not my country in the way it is theirs. But I certainly feel my place here.
Caring for country is integral to Indigenous culture. In a time of looking for solutions to climate change, connection to country should be a universal religion. We don’t own country. You can’t. What you own is real estate. Real estate is not country. This came to me when I was walking. It made me cry. I had this sudden understanding of why we care for country. I have never felt so soothed by nature. I’m 52 – and I finally get it. We care for country, because country cares for us.